A startup called Tactus Technology has developed a thin “Tactile Layer” that sits on top of touchscreens in place of the normal surface (it’s no thicker). The Tactile Layer is comprised of fluid-filled microchannels which, on command, can alter fluid pressure and redirect the liquid to create blister-like buttons. And it’s remarkably power efficient.
“If we look at high daily usage--say 100 times per day--we use less than 1% of a typical smartphone battery,” explains Tactus CEO Craig Ciesla. “This is because our system only consumes power when the button state changes. Once up, the buttons are up and active without power consumption.”
In their tech demos, an iPhone has physical number keys, and a tablet has a real QWERTY. Theoretically, this technology will enable faster, more accurate typing on touchscreens. But that use case is barely doing the technology justice.
“For the first generation of technology, the position of the buttons are pre-configured [in the factory],” Ciesla tells Co.Design. “But the size, shape and location can be anywhere on the window--so we are highly flexible and a design tool with which device and UI designers can innovate. Future generations will offer individually controllable buttons - touchable pixels, or Tixels.”